Lists contest ‘land jihad’ line in Jammu
Lists of purported land encroachers released this week by the Jammu administration appear to contradict a “land jihad” campaign by some BJP politicians and Delhi-based TV channels that has gained steam ahead of the District Development Council elections, which begin on Saturday.
According to the “land jihad” theory, first propounded more than a year ago, Muslims have been encroaching on government land in the Hindu-majority Jammu region to try and change its demography.
However, one list the administration has released, naming 541 people in Jammu district whose encroachments were regularised under a controversial law named the Roshni Act, appears to have only 3 Muslim names.
Another list of 1,237 whose alleged encroachments in Jammu district were not regularised seems to contain only around three dozen Muslim names.
These two officially released lists cover only a fraction of the encroachments in Jammu district, which is just one among 10 districts in the Jammu region. However, a lawyer privy to encroachment-related documents submitted before Jammu and Kashmir High Court insisted that “a big majority” among the more than 1.5 lakh people whose encroachments in the Jammu region were regularised under the controversial law were non-Muslims.
The high court had on October 9 quashed as unconstitutional the 19-year-old Roshni Act — which regularised encroachments on government land by thousands, including many influential people, often against a nominal fee — on a public interest petition filed in 2011 by Jammu resident S.K. Bhalla.
Apart from ordering a CBI probe and retrieval of the regularised plots, the court had directed the Kashmir and Jammu administrations to publish the lists of all grabbers of government land – both those whose encroachments had been regularised and those whose hadn’t.
From Monday, the administration began releasing the lists and by Tuesday had covered parts of Jammu district in the Jammu region and parts of Srinagar district in the Kashmir region.
Bhalla’s lawyer, Sheikh Shakeel Ahmad, said he had already accessed the full lists of the Roshni Act beneficiaries and other encroachers and these had confirmed that “land jihad” was a myth.
“Of the 44,000 kanals (eight kanals make an acre) encroached on in Jammu district, only 1,180 kanals have gone to Muslims. In Kathua district (of Jammu), 98 per cent of the 11,000 kanals have gone to non-Muslims,” Ahmed told The Telegraph.
“In all, a big majority among the 1.58 lakh beneficiaries of the Roshni Act in the Jammu region were non-Muslims.”
Former BJP chief minister Kavinder Gupta, who had recently joined the “land jihad” bandwagon in Jammu, said he had been misquoted.
“I want action against all people (encroachers), irrespective of their faith,” he said. “(But) it (the lists) proves how influential politicians were grabbing land in J&K.”
The “land jihad” campaign comes at a time people in the Muslim-majority Kashmir region are worried about changes to the Union territory’s land laws, seeing in them a plan by the Centre to settle outsiders and change the Valley’s demography.
The Valley administration too had by Tuesday released two encroachment lists — but only of “influential persons” who had benefited from the Roshni Act.
They showed 35 and 101 beneficiaries, respectively, of whom 20 — around 15 per cent — have non-Muslim names. The Valley’s Muslim population is around 95 per cent.
Apart from running the “land jihad” campaign, the BJP has been targeting Valley politicians, including former chief minister Farooq Abdullah and former finance minister Haseeb Drabu, accusing them of being encroachers and beneficiaries of the Roshni Act.
The act was passed in 2001 under a government headed by Farooq.
Many believe that the lists are being released just before the district body polls to tarnish Farooq and other mainstream Valley politicians, who have formed an alliance to contest the elections to try and prove to the world that Kashmiris want Article 370 restored.
While the Srinagar list names Drabu, who has denied any wrongdoing, one of the Jammu lists accuses Farooq of encroaching on less than an acre of land close to his family home in Sunjwan.
The list says Farooq has physically encroached on the land but clarifies that the revenue records do not mention the purported encroachment, and that the alleged land grab was not regularised under the Roshni Act.
That did not stop several media outlets to claim that Farooq was the beneficiary of the “Roshni scam”.
The list mentions eight other “influential” people, none of whose alleged encroachments are confirmed by the revenue records.
Farooq’s son and former chief minister Omar Abdullah said: “Dr Farooq Abdullah has not availed of the Roshni Scheme for either his residence in Srinagar or in Jammu and anyone who says otherwise is lying. The fact that they are using sources to plant this story shows that it has no legs to stand on.”
According to the high court order, a total of 604,602 kanals (75,575 acres) of encroached government land had been regularised and transferred to the occupants. This included 571,210 kanals (71,401 acres) in the Jammu region and 33,392 kanals (4,174 acres) in the Kashmir region.
Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said: “It’s very unfortunate that key leaders of Jammu and Kashmir, including Farooq Abdullah, used their influence and power for land grabbing.”